Bookstart's history

The origins of the world’s first national bookgifting programme

Bookstart Bears reading together1992: Piloting Bookstart and early findings

BookTrust ran a pilot project involving 300 babies, with support from Birmingham University and local library and health services. Research found that Bookstart children began school with clear advantages and higher attainment in pre-school assessments.


Explore Wade and Moore's findings, plus other research

1992–1998: Early days

In light of the research, the importance of book-sharing was increasingly recognised and 60 more pilot projects were developed, often using European Social Regeneration Budget funding and targeting deprived areas.

1999–2000: Support from Sainsbury’s

Following 1998's National Year of Reading, Sainsbury's were looking for a Millennium children’s learning project that would leave a legacy for the 21st century. Being chosen allowed Bookstart to develop nationally.  

1999–2000: Local services get on board

By 1999, most local authorities were eager to participate, with a member of library staff becoming ‘Bookstart Coordinator’ for their area. This enthusiasm, along with Sainsbury’s support, meant that by March 2000, 92% of local authorities had joined Bookstart and it became the world’s first national bookgifting programme.  

2000–2004: New partnerships and packs

The Department for Education supported the search for funding in 2000-1 and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport underpinned the programme in 2001-02 and 2003-04. During this time, BookTrust developed partnerships with children’s publishers and started to produce Bookstart packs at a nominal cost.  

2004–05: Universally speaking

Government funding extended the Bookstart scheme to enable free books for every child at three key stages: babies, toddlers and preschoolers. There was resounding approval from children's publishers, who contracted to support Bookstart for a further three years.


Bookstart today: a public/private partnership to promote reading for pleasure

The UK Government, via Arts Council England, provides catalyst funding to enable support from the children’s book sector. The Bookstart programme is run nationally by Book Trust, with tireless support from Bookstart Coordinators, as well as library, health and early years professionals across the country.

Find out how you can support BookTrust to changes lives through reading